That shortly after his opponent Scott Morrison conceded defeat in the federal election, Australia's incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday that he would fly to Tokyo for the China-focused Quad summit and one-on-one meetings with the United States, Japanese and Indian leaders on Tuesday, seems to have dashed hopes of an uptick in the Sino-Australian relations with the center-left Labor leader taking post.
Although historically the Labor Party has adopted a more pragmatic approach in dealing with China when in power than the Liberal Party, it should be noted that a bipartisan consensus has already been formed, if not become entrenched, in Australia that China is a threat to Australia's security and regional interests.
That was evidenced by the legislature passing national security bills positing China as a threat as well as the broad support the populist Morrison government garnered for the flurry of anti-China policies it rolled out.
Although Albanese might adopt a less provocative stance toward China than his predecessor, the fact that his trip to Tokyo comes just 24 hours after his swearing-in shows that there is unlikely to be any fundamental swing away from the US' Indo-Pacific strategy that invites selected countries to sign up as members of an exclusive club.
Indeed, in this regard Morrison proved an eager beaver as he ensured that Australia is actively engaged in all three frameworks the US has put in place to contain China－the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, AUKUS and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. A unique feat.
Given the great lengths US President Joe Biden is going to in a bid to decouple the US from China, Albanese's zeal in attending the Quad summit makes it clear that relations with the US will continue to be the policy priority under his government, even though he has yet to clarify its China policy.
However, as the economy, the cost of living and climate change were the main focuses of the just-concluded federal election and where the Morrison-led Liberal-National Coalition failed to win people's trust, the Albanese government should beware falling into the same trap as the previous administration, and not let Washington shape its view of China.
China is the largest trade partner of Australia and a major investor in the country, and wrongly regarding it as an enemy does not serve Australia's interests. If it takes a more reasonable approach than its predecessor, the Albanese government has room to strike a balance in Australia's relations with China and the US. In doing so it could play an important role as a mediator between Beijing and Washington.